Global Cases Surge Past 480,000; Fed Vows Support: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — Spain reported a surge in cases, though fewer deaths than a day earlier. The number of infections in Europe has tripled over the past week, the World Health Organization said, adding that the continent now accounts for 7 out of 10 reported fatalities.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged to a record last week as businesses shuttered and laid off workers. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell vowed to support the flow of credit in the U.S. economy after the Senate approved a $2 trillion package.

Earlier, the European Central Bank will scrap limits on bond purchases, giving it almost unlimited firepower to fight the economic fallout. The Bank of England warned of a very sharp reduction in activity, while Singapore estimated that its economy contracted the most in a decade.

Key Developments:

Cases top 487,000; 22,000 dead, 117,700 recovered: Johns HopkinsU.S. death toll tops 1,000; confirmed cases in Canada surge 72%Kudlow says jobless claims to show a big increase on ThursdayFauci warns of potential for another cycle of coronavirus infectionsChina’s Wuhan lockdown may delay feared second wave, study showsSpanish doctors are forced to choose who to let die from virus

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U.S. Jobless Claims Surged to Record (8:31 a.m. NY)

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged to a record 3.28 million last week. Initial jobless claims in the week ended March 21 were up from 282,000 in the prior week and more than quadruple the previous record high of 695,000 in 1982, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The figures date back to 1967.

Economists’ projections had ranged as high as 4.4 million.

Faster Virus Tests (8:30 a.m. NY)

Henry Schein said an antibody rapid blood test, known as Standard Q COVID-19 IgM/IgG Rapid Test, is now available. The test is intended to be administered at the point of care and delivers results within 15 minutes from a pinprick with no instrumentation required.

Earlier, Robert Bosch GmbH said it developed a test that can diagnose Covid-19 in less than 2.5 hours. The new test uses the Vivalytic molecular diagnostics platform made by Bosch’s healthcare division, used in hospitals, laboratories and medical practices. Patients typically must wait one or two days before they get test results.

Separately, U.K.-based Mologic Ltd. has sent prototypes of a 10-minute coronavirus test to laboratories for validation before it can begin full-scale manufacturing. The company and its partner, the Senegalese research foundation Institut Pasteur de Dakar, have developed a finger-prick test to determine whether a person had the illness and the state of their immune system. The company is also working on a separate saliva test to detect the presence of the virus.

Walmart Hires Thousands (8:25 a.m. NY)

Walmart Inc. has taken on 25,000 new employees and given offers to thousands more in the first week of a hiring push, as the biggest private employer in the U.S. scrambles to keep its shelves stocked and checkouts staffed.

The retailer has compressed a hiring process that can often take two weeks into as little as three hours by eliminating formal interviews and written job offers.

German Tour Operator TUI Said to Near State Aid (8:20 a.m. NY)

TUI AG, the world’s biggest tour operator, is close to securing almost 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in government aid in what’s seen as a litmus test for Germany’s pledge to rescue businesses ravaged by the pandemic.

The company and its adviser reached an agreement with Germany’s state-owned KfW development bank on the terms of loans earlier this week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private. That financing package is now with TUI’s lending banks, which are expected to sign off in the coming days, they said.

Portugal Confirmed Coronavirus Cases Rise 18% (8:16 a.m. NY)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Portugal rose to 3,544 as of 11 a.m. on Thursday, an 18% increase from 2,995 on Wednesday morning, the government’s Directorate-General of Health said. Confirmed cases rose 27% on Wednesday from the previous day, following a 15% increase on Tuesday. The total number of deaths increased to 60 on Thursday from 43 reported through Wednesday morning; 43 patients have now recovered, up from 22 on Wednesday.

BOE Warns of Long-Term Damage; Holds Rates (8 a.m. NY)

The Bank of England left rates unchanged, but said it’s ready to provide more support for the economy after warning that a very sharp reduction in activity was likely. The pound stayed stronger in a broad trend for a weaker dollar across global markets and gilts continued to gain.

“Given the severity of that disruption, there is a risk of longer-term damage to the economy, especially if there are business failures on a large scale or significant increases in unemployment,” the central bank said. The BOE has already slashed interest rates by 65 basis points in total in two emergency announcements, taking them to their lowest ever at 0.1%. It also added 200 billion pounds ($239 billion) to its quantitative-easing target, raising it to 645 billion pounds.

Germany in ‘Calm Before the Storm’ (7:50 a.m. NY)

Germany is only in the early stages of the coronavirus epidemic and medical staff there are preparing for their biggest challenge since the Second World War, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn. “Policy makers are in crisis mode,” Spahn said at a news conference in Berlin. “This is still the calm before the storm and nobody can say what will happen in coming weeks.”

Germany has more than 37,000 confirmed cases and 203 deaths, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from regional governments.

Ford Plans Gradual Restart of North American Plants (7:30 a.m. NY)

Ford Motor Co. plans to resume vehicle production in Mexico on April 6, with some U.S. plants cranking up again about a week later. After halting North American production as of March 19 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, Ford said it’s aiming to restart production first at its factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, which builds the Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans.

Ford then plans to restart production on April 14 at plants in Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio that assemble profitable F-Series pickups and commercial vans. Other factories that make transmissions and press metal parts for those vehicles are also due to resume on that day. The F-Series is Ford’s best-selling model and provides most of its profit.

Powell Says Fed Will Keep Credit Flowing (7:18 a.m. NY)

“We will keep doing that aggressively and forthrightly, as we have been,” Powell said in an interview on NBC Thursday. “When it comes to this lending we’re not going to run out of ammunition.” Over the past three weeks, the U.S. central bank has introduced an unprecedented series of measures pushing it deep into uncharted territory.

Powell said the U.S. may well be in recession, but expects activity to resume and move back up in the second half of the year. He said “we would tend to listen to the experts” on when normal activity should resume and added that the virus would dictate the timetable.

Spain Reports Fewer Deaths, Cases Surge (6:32 a.m. NY)

Total cases rose to 56,188 from 47,610 and fatalities jumped by 655, fewer than on Wednesday, to 4,089. Hospitals in the country are struggling to cope with the surge.

Europe Accounts for 7 out of 10 Virus Deaths, WHO Says (6:20 a.m. NY)

The number of cases tripled in the past week in Europe, with the disease spreading faster in Spain, France, Germany and Switzerland, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s director for Europe, said at a press briefing in Copenhagen. Italy’s infection rate has slowed slightly, but it’s too early to say the disease has peaked there, he said. The country has 6,200 infected health-care workers, he added.

Kluge said Europe needs to attack the disease in solidarity, because if the European Union manages to fight it but it takes hold in eastern Europe, it will just come back.

Iran Reports 157 New Deaths (5:38 p.m. HK)

Iran reported 157 new deaths and an additional 2,389 cases. About 29,400 people have been infected in total, of which 2,234 have died and more than 10,000 recovered.

Austrian GDP Seen Down 2.5% if Economy Back to Normal in Summer (5:30 p.m. HK)

Austrian output of goods and services will contract 2.5% this year if lockdown measures lift gradually from May and the economy returns to normal over the summer, researcher Wifo said.

Irish Unemployment Set to Hit 30-Year High (5:20 p.m. HK)

Irish unemployment may surge to the highest level since the 1980s, as the coronavirus takes an unprecedented toll. The jobless rate could rise 18% in the second quarter, the government-backed ESRI think-tank said on Thursday, should current restrictions remain in place for 12 weeks as planned. About 350,000 people would lose their jobs, the think tank said, with unemployment jumping from below 5%.

EU Leaders to Hold Virtual Summit (5:15 p.m. HK)

European Union leaders will on Thursday pledge to protect companies from foreign takeovers, discuss an exit-strategy from the looming recession, and likely agree on credit lines to help keep borrowing costs low while governments go on a spending spree. As EU nations move to tackle the fallout, leaders will tacitly admit that they were unprepared for the “unprecedented challenge” of the rapidly spreading disease, according to the latest draft of a joint statement to be issued following a video conference.

Their discussion is expected to highlight divisions, especially when it comes to possible joint debt issuance and the conditions attached to any borrowing from the euro area’s bailout fund.

Self-Employed British Workers Promised Help (4:58 p.m. HK)

Millions of Britons who work for themselves will be promised a rescue package as the coronavirus pandemic threatens their incomes. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will announce assistance to the self-employed on Thursday in what will be his fourth set of emergency measures to cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government battles growing criticism of its response to the spread of the virus, which has been slower than some other countries.

Cases Rise in Asia (4:51 p.m. HK)

Fatalities from novel coronavirus infection in Indonesia jumped to 78, the most in Southeast Asia, as the world’s fourth-most populous nation continues to see a surge in fresh cases. The total number of peopled infected rose to 893 on Thursday from 790 a day earlier. The number of new infections topped 100 for a third consecutive day.

Malaysia added 235 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, the biggest daily jump so far, after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin decided to extend the lockdown until April 14. And Hong Kong reported 43 additional cases, the second biggest daily jump in confirmed cases.

Thailand, a Southeast Asian country now entering what’s traditionally one of its hottest periods of the year, saw total cases surpass 1,000 following confirmation of 111 new cases. The total number may reach 3,500 by the end of April if the infection rate continues at this pace, according to Anupong Sujariyakul, senior expert in preventive medicine at the Disease Control Department.

Virus Response Topples First European Government (4:30 p.m. HK)

Kosovo lawmakers voted to remove Prime Minister Albin Kurti, becoming the first nation in Europe to vote out a government over the way it handled the coronavirus outbreak. The government collapsed late on Wednesday, just months after it took office. The vote was called by a junior coalition partner who criticized steps taken to curb the contagion.

Romanian Health Minister Victor Costache resigned on Thursday as the country struggled to contain the spread.

India Unveils $22.6 Billion Stimulus (4:10 p.m. HK)

The measures will include cash transfers as well as steps on food security, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in New Delhi Thursday. The package will benefit migrant workers, she said. India is on a total lockdown for three weeks from Wednesday in the world’s biggest isolation effort, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to prevent the virus from spreading locally.

Singapore Boosts Virus Package as Economy Shrinks (3:53 p.m. HK)

Singapore delivered a second stimulus package of S$48 billion ($33 billion) to fight the coronavirus outbreak, drawing on national reserves for the first time since the global financial crisis to support an economy heading for recession.

The city-state’s gross domestic product fell an annualized 10.6% in the first quarter from the previous three months, far worse than the median forecast for an 8.2% contraction in a Bloomberg survey. The government said it now sees a sharp contraction in the economy of 1% to 4% for the full year.

U.K. Companies Get More Time to Publish Accounts (3:50 p.m. HK)

U.K. listed companies struggling with deadlines because of the coronavirus outbreak will get an extra two months to publish their financial statements, regulators said in a series of coordinated measures designed to reassure Britain’s businesses. Companies will have until six months after their financial year end to deliver their statements, the Financial Conduct Authority said on Thursday.

Moscow to Shut Restaurants, Stores, Parks (3:37 p.m. HK)

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin ordered a sweeping shutdown in Europe’s biggest city Thursday after infections in the Russian capital spiked. Restaurants, parks and stores except for pharmacies and food shops will shut down from Saturday for a week. Moscow reported a sharp increase in the number of cases, with the total jumping by a third over the last day to 546. The national total rose to 840.

Russia is taking the illness increasingly seriously, with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday declaring a next week a non-working one nationwide in a bid to reduce contagion and the government halting all international flights, effective March 27.

French Business Confidence Tumbles by a Record (2:35 p.m. HK)

French business confidence plunged at a record pace in March as shutdowns to contain the coronavirus have left the economy running at 65% of normal activity. The index fell to 95 in March from 105 the month before, statistics office Insee said Thursday. The drop echoes that seen in Germany in figures earlier this week, and reflects French President Emmanuel Macron’s move to put the country in lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

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